On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Indictment No. 08-08-1875.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 26, 2011
Before Judges A. A. Rodriguez and Sabatino.
After having partially lost his motion to suppress certain evidence seized by the police from his motor vehicle, defendant Corey E. Williams pled guilty to third-degree unlawful possession of a firearm, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5b. Other offenses charged in the indictment were dismissed pursuant to a plea agreement. Consistent with the plea agreement, the trial court sentenced defendant to two years of probation, conditioned upon 364 days of confinement in the county jail.
Defendant now appeals. His sole argument is that the trial court erred in declining to grant his suppression motion in its entirety. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
The pertinent facts were developed at the suppression hearing conducted on November 7, 2008. Three law enforcement officers testified for the State, and no defense witnesses were called. Although there were slight variations in their accounts, the witnesses described the following relevant sequence of events.
On the evening of December 21, 2007, four Monmouth County Sheriff's Officers and two trainees were on an assignment serving warrants in Asbury Park. At approximately 11:03 p.m., the officers attempted to serve a warrant at an address on Borden Avenue. They were unable to do so, and returned to their respective vehicles. Officer Sean O'Neill, who was training an officer named Mele, then pulled his vehicle alongside the vehicle of Officer David Lasko on Borden Avenue.*fn1 Lasko was with another trainee, Officer Willet.
As O'Neill and Lasko conversed while sitting in their vehicles, they observed a Pontiac sedan with Virginia license plates traveling northbound towards them on Borden Avenue. The approaching car had no illuminated headlights. O'Neill told Lasko that he was going to stop the Pontiac. It is undisputed that defendant drove the Pontiac, and that there were three passengers in the vehicle.
O'Neill performed a K-turn, and he followed the Pontiac for a short distance. O'Neill then activated his emergency lights to perform a motor vehicle stop. Once the Pontiac stopped, O'Neill got out of his own vehicle. Carrying a flashlight, O'Neill approached the driver's side of the stopped car. Mele approached the passenger side. As this occurred, Officers Lasko, Willet, Rosado, and Schirripa arrived on the scene. Sergeant Thomas Nuccio, of the Asbury Park Police Department's Gang Unit, also arrived. Nuccio spoke briefly with O'Neill, and then left after confirming that the scene was secure.
According to O'Neill's testimony, as he approached the driver the first thing he detected was the odor of an alcoholic beverage emanating from the Pontiac. O'Neill asked the driver to produce credentials. The credentials identified the driver as defendant, Corey E. Williams.
As defendant looked for his credentials, O'Neill observed with the aid of his flashlight, an open bottle of Hennessy cognac located behind the driver's seat in a "cargo-type" mesh pouch. O'Neill also saw a silver-colored cocktail shaker behind the passenger seat. O'Neill further noticed a paper bag on the front passenger side floor, containing what he believed to be an open green bottle of beer.
Meanwhile, Lasko approached the passenger side of the car. According to Lasko's testimony, he likewise smelled the odor of alcohol, and observed the open bottle of Hennessy behind the driver's seat. Lasko also noticed the silver-colored cocktail shaker, although he recalled seeing it between the two rear passengers.
When Lasko asked about the cocktail shaker, another occupant of the car replied that it contained alcohol. Lasko also saw the open green bottle in a ...